So the Next Generation Will Know By Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace Review

Apologetics is the art and science of making a rational case for the Christian worldview, and McDowell and Wallace are rock stars in that field. Both have written prolifically and spoken in countless venues on the subject, and I have certainly benefitted from their work. In So the Next Generation Will Know, we are shown not only that the case must still be made, but what sort of challenges we are likely to encounter in doing so to the emerging generation.

As their book is laid out, they begin by noting that for all the unique aspects of this upcoming generation, they need love, just like the rest of us. McDowell and Wallace make their case by showing how to love this next generation well, and without compromise. The book has two sections. It begins with a section about us and why it is so important to reach the next generation. The second section offers a framework for how to reach them.

I spent a good amount of time training as an apologist. However, now that my children are grown, and I haven’t had the blessing of grandchildren yet, I haven’t been involved much with children. As a result, I do feel a distance that can make interaction a little awkward. Personally, I find this book immensely helpful in how to be ready to “give an answer” to the next generation.

This book is a must read for parents, pastors, and youth leaders.

It’s Time for the “Chreasters” (and I Don’t mean the Christmas/Easter CHURCH goers.)

It’s Easter time, and like clockwork, as surely as those who attend church twice a year show up (and we’re glad you do, we miss you the rest of the year,) the skeptics pop up with their attacks on Christian beliefs. In this case in point, we have a post titled “Evidence Jesus Existed Weaker Than We Might Think” published at Rawstory.com.

The author, Valerie Tarico, credits the “enlightenment” as furnishing grounds for doubting the content of the Gospels. She only mentions the rise of particular scientific disciplines (conveniently overlooking the fact that the modern scientific revolution was grounded in the Christian worldview.) What did the “enlightenment” bring us? Rationalism. Rationalism is the idea that only that which can be arrived at by human reasoning ought to be considered rational. It was the birth of the “fact/value” split. The idea was that the only facts that can be known were those scientifically testable or true by definition. (Never mind that the view itself is not true by definition, nor can it be tested scientifically.) So, from the start, the argument is “The Gospels claim things that are not true by definition, and cannot be tested scientifically, therefore they can’t be evidence that Jesus existed.”

Next, after citing the work of world-renown biblical scholar Thomas Jefferson for his redaction of all things miraculous from the Bible (a product of his enlightenment,) she cites the failure of the various “quest(s) for the historical Jesus” as casting doubt on the record of the Gospels. These quests were done with enlightenment thinking, so once you dismiss much of the record in advance, then yes, it is very hard to get at who Jesus was. “I’m going to ignore all the biographies of Lincoln that mention his concern for America. Now, I can’t find any evidence from the early 19th century that Lincoln existed.”

Following this, she raises the “We don’t know who wrote the Gospels, but they weren’t eyewitnesses” objection. Anybody see a problem there? Anyone? Bueller?… People who lived within living memory of the events affirm the traditional authorship. Paul even quotes from Luke’s Gospel. Notice, by the way, the “bait and switch” that has happened here. She leads off questioning the evidence for Jesus’ existence, and then just casts doubt about the accuracy of the Gospel accounts. From this, we are to infer Jesus never existed? That kind of “all-or-nothing” thinking is common among fundamentalists (in the negative sense) both of the Christian variety as well as the skeptic variety.

Her next target is the works of Josephus and Tacitus, historians who wrote in the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries, under the heading “The Gospels are not corroborated by outside historians.” First, let me observe that “historical event X was not written about by people who didn’t care” is not evidence that event X didn’t happen. Second, this is a continuation of the bait and switch. There is lots more evidence for Jesus in Paul’s writings, which are even earlier than some of the Gospels (or at least he records things that predate the Gospels, such as the creed in 1 Corinthians 15.) Secondly, Tacitus’ writing IS evidence Jesus existed, even if you doubt Christianity. Finally, Tarico is correct that the version of what is called the Testimonium Flavium, which is the most well-known passage that describes Jesus is considered at least a partial interpolation, there have been discoveries of manuscripts with the part of the passage many scholars agree contain the original.

One thing I can say for Tarico is that she is thorough. She has cited every PhD level scholar who is a Jesus mythicist. Both of them. Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier is considered an embarrassment to people like Bart Ehrman (whom Tarico quotes,) and Price is no better.

Tarico has shown a common flaw in her thinking (in addition to the self-refuting rationalism) in thinking that a large portion of the Roman Empire would convert to a religion that is entirely made up, even leaving the stability of the community that came from not converting.

Tarico goes on to say that scholars must admit that it is possible that Jesus never existed to maintain “academic respectability.” I think they should do that as soon as these mythiscists are willing to genuinely admit that it is possible that the Gospels record the events essentially the way they happened.

The Death Myth by Brian Rossiter: A Review

Author

Brian Rossiter holds a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Trevecca Nazarene University, and is an adjunct professor at Ohio Christian University, as well as a long-time high school teacher.

 

Thesis

Rossiter hopes to show that the traditional views of the afterlife are inaccurate in some substantial way, and to offer a more plausible view, by defining terms, showing that the traditional view is not a settled consensus, and demonstrate the plausibility of his view that a human person retains his identity between death and the resurrection through some sort of “identity information kept on file by God” that provides the continuity between this life and the next.

 

Synopsis

The Death Myth is arranged into five chapters. In chapter one, Rossiter lays out his biblical case for his rejection of the traditional view of the intermediate state of the dead, what he refers to as the Temporary Disembodiment Position. (TDP) In chapters two and three, he critiques the TDP interpretation of key passages. In chapter four, Rossiter completes his case against TDP and offers his alternative, “Identity Information” view. Chapter five closes with what he sees as the ramifications of the views.

 

Analysis: The good

First and foremost, whatever view you take (assuming it is one of the options discussed in the book) Rossiter clearly affirms essential Christian doctrine. If he is wrong, his views are heterodox, not heretical. Likewise, I think Rossiter would affirm the same of those whose view he critiques. There are no ad hominem cries of “heretic!” leveled here. Additionally, it is better to challenge traditional beliefs if you think there is a problem than to simply accept them merely because they are traditional. This is especially true when the popular understanding of the traditional view goes uncorrected. Rossiter rightly points to the incompleteness of the view that when we die we go to heaven/hell forever. He affirms the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth as our hope. Moreover, wherever you come down in this debate, Rossiter is to be commended for putting his views out there for public scrutiny and discussion. Finally, but not exhaustively, Rossiter does not affirm physicalist monism. Let me also add that this book has helped me sharpen my own thinking on this issue. I will have more to say on this in my next post.

 

The not so good

Throughout the book, there are several assertions Rossiter makes that I don’t think he adequately supports. The first is that the TDP view means that the soul is its own being. What kind of being are we talking about? For the substance dualist, a whole human being is a body soul unity. If the body dies, the human being does not cease to exist because a part of the human being persists: the soul. The soul is not a whole human being because a whole human being is a body/soul unity. Just as a whole human body has two arms and two legs, but does not cease to be a human body if one were to lose his arms and legs, so a whole human being is a body soul unity, but does not cease to be a human being upon the death of the body.

The second assertion he makes is the TDP view makes the soul somehow superior to the body, and the body unnecessary. Rossiter goes as far as to say that Paul’s primary argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is to refute this view. While Alan Johnson seems to support this in his commentary:

 

Such a Corinthian view would have involved a dualistic anthropology holding that there are two different classes of people, nonspiritual and spiritual. The spiritual person (inspired by the transcendental spirit) transcends all bodily matters. The body is nothing more than a house in which the immortal soul lives. The final separation of the spiritualized soul from the body occurs at death. Not only is a resurrection of the body impossible, it is unnecessary because immortality is reached by receiving the Spirit (Holleman 1996:37).[1](emphasis added)

 

The commentary says a dualistic anthropology. Not the dualistic anthropology, and not simply dualistic anthropology. Just because a particular form of dualism holds this view, it doesn’t mean dualism is identical with this view. Repeatedly Rossiter makes mention of the claims made by scholars that the body is unnecessary. But unnecessary for what? None of the scholars he cites would say that the body is unnecessary for the existence of a whole human being. All of them would affirm that the body is not necessary for the human being to continue to exist.

Next, Rossiter notes the use of “sleep” as the term Paul chose to describe death. Many commentators note that this was a common euphemism for sleep. That is the best explanation for why Paul would choose this term. I don’t think this point does much for Rossiter’s case. What is sleeping? Not the body, if actual sleep is happening.

From there, Rossiter goes on to challenge the understanding of passages that are often cited in support of TDP. The first such passage is the story/account/parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Rossiter calls it a parable, and it may very well be. Some who cite it in support of substance dualism do so insisting it is not a parable. I don’t think it has to be a story of real persons to support TDP. In support of the idea it is not a parable, in the other parables, Jesus prefaces them with “the kingdom of God is like…” No such preface opens this one. But what if it is a parable? What is a parable? When Jesus told parables, he used the familiar to communicate the unfamiliar. If the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable, it would seem the idea of a TDP state was familiar to his audience. If it is not a parable, then it is an account of actual persons. In either case, it still seems to support TDP.

I will join Rossiter in leaving the account of Samuel as having too much mystery to press into service on either side. One of the worst examples of Rossiter’s exegesis comes in his treatment of the criminal on the cross. When Jesus tells him, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise,” Rossiter argues that the comma, usually placed “…tell you, today…” could be placed after today to read, “…tell you today, …”  This has almost no support when you look at the 50 times Jesus says, “Truly I tell you…”in the gospels. Of these,  only twice is there any time marker that follows. One is the verse in question, and the other is when Jesus tells Peter, “Truly I tell you this very night…” In no other usage does Jesus say, “Truly I tell you today…”  Why think this passage on the cross would be any different? Rossiter then hedges by saying maybe this is a special case for the criminal, but if so, how does the criminal go to paradise?

Finally, if, as Rossiter argues, death means the complete absence of life of any kind, what did Jesus mean when he told the Sadducees, “’…I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living?”

 

The incoherent

Throughout the book, Rossiter rejects the idea that there is an immaterial aspect to the self in the soul. He argues that existence must be “substantive.” It is not at all clear how he differentiates the two. The traditional claim that the soul is immaterial is to say that it is not a substance that is subject to the laws of physics. Philosophically, the term “substance” means some essence that exists. Here an essence is the “whatness” of a thing, what makes it what it is and not something else. The essence of a human being would be humanness. This is not to say the essence actually exists apart from a particular thing. There is no “humanness” that exists apart from any particular human being. (Platonists would disagree, but that’s another debate.) Substance dualists would argue that there are two substances that make up the whole human being. Human flesh (material) and human soul (immaterial.) We would agree that the human soul is substance, but not material.

Rossiter calls his view “identity information.” He says his view is of property dualism. The problem is things have properties. Properties have properties, but properties don’t exist on their own. Moreover, information apart from a knower is always third person. Information about you can exist apart from your mind, but you can only exist with your mind. There can be no “information on file” that can accurately say, “I am Brian Rossiter.” For God to unite an “identity file” with a resurrection body would be nothing more than a superclone. It could say “I am Brian Rossiter,” but it wouldn’t be the one who wrote this book.

 

Recommendation

The Death Myth is worth reading. It will make you think, and it will sharpen your thinking. I commend Rossiter for writing it. I think he is mistaken in his conclusions, but it is good to reexamine what you believe. It is best read by people who have studied these issues. I am not sure a lay person who has not studied these issues will understand the strengths or weaknesses of this book.

 

[1] Alan Johnson, 1 Corinthians 15, in The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, ed. Grant Osborn (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010, Bible Study App.

 

Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness – A Philosopher’s Lament By Douglas Groothuis A Review

 

 

I typically start my reviews with a description of the author along with a description of the author’s credentials as they relate to the book. This is no exception, but it is different. Douglas Groothuis is a professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, having received his PhD from the University of Oregon. Since this book contains some philosophical and theological reflections, this is relevant. Of even greater relevance is this: he is the husband of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.

Walking Through Twilight is an account of the suffering experienced by a once brilliant woman with a form of dementia called primary progressive aphasia, and the anguish of her loving husband. Groothuis offers us a glimpse into their lives, and an account of his experience told with raw honesty. This book is what it claims to be; a lament. It is an honest outpouring of grief. It is not a rant that spirals into self-pity. It is a catharsis with a pastoral purpose.

The theme of the book is not “Look at me, I’m a victim,” or “Poor me.” Rather it is, “This is our lives. It hurts. This is what I’ve learned about what to do and what not to do.” This is, of course, a gross over simplification. This is not a “how-to” book. It is an invitation to walk with them, and to benefit from Groothuis’ reflections born of faith, experience, and clear thinking.

Walking Through Twilight is a must read for anyone who is having a similar experience, anyone who loves someone with dementia, and anyone who thinks they may ever know someone with dementia. The section where Groothuis talks about what not to say is especially helpful.

 

Why Does God Allow Evil? By Clay Jones A Review

 

Author

Clay Jones is an associate professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, and the chairman of Ratio Christi, a campus apologetics alliance. He is a former talk show host and has served on the pastoral staff of several large churches. Jones received a BA in Philosophy from California State University, an MDiv from American Theological Seminary, and a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. (Because of his doctorate and the topic of this book, which is his main area of teaching, I lovingly refer to Clay as “Dr. Evil.)

 

Synopsis

A common complaint from skeptics as well as saints is that there is so much evil in the world. How is this possible if a good and loving God exists? While there are many well-reasoned arguments that show this is not a problem, it is still a challenging topic. It can be especially difficult to discern what is behind the question. Is it intellectual curiosity, skepticism seeking an excuse, or the gut-wrenching reality of the death or suffering of a loved-one. Each kind of questioner needs a different approach. For those in the third category, I would say this book is not for you right now. There is no book on this topic that will really meet your need. You don’t need a book. You need a community of people to come along side you, love you, and hurt with you through this. Go to your community and get the support you need. For those who want an answer, this book is for you. For those hoping to justify your skepticism with the Problem of Evil, I challenge you to read this book with an open mind.

Why God Allows Evil is written from the perspective of a Christian worldview. It offers answers based on what God has revealed in the Holy Bible. If you read this book assuming that Christianity is false, you will find the arguments within meaningless. That would be a great loss.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, with an introduction setting the stage and defining terms. Chapter 1 starts at the beginning, which is to say how evil was actualized by our first parents. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the question of bad things happening to good people. Chapter 4 deals with the unevangelized, or “if people never hear about Jesus, how is it fair to punish them?” Chapter 5 addresses the fairness of Hell. Chapters 6, 7, and 8 deal with free will and how it plays into these questions. 9, 10, and 11 explain how eternity sets the context for the whole question. The book is then summarized on the epilogue, followed by an appendix that takes a stab at explaining the ultimate origin of evil.

 

Analysis

Having sat under Dr. Jones’ teaching on this material in graduate school, I could hear his voice in my head as I read this book. This was an advantage for me. However, for those who have never met him, it could be a challenge for you. Jones goes to great pains to express his heart for those who are wrestling with these issues, but because of his no-nonsense approach, that might not be obvious. He is offering tough answers to tough questions. Trust me when I tell you, he is giving these answers with a pastor’s heart.

From my studies of these issues under Jones and others, I agree with most of what he has to say in this volume. Jones ascribes almost all suffering and death to Adam’s sin and God’s curse on the earth that resulted. I am a little hesitant to agree. I realize Jones’ view is from what he would call “an unforced reading” of the Biblical data. What gives me pause is the number of things that have been discovered to be beneficial to life on earth that are often shown as examples of “natural evil.” For example, earthquakes, which unfortunately cause thousands of deaths around the world, are the result of a natural process, plate tectonics, that makes earth habitable. Hurricanes have a major role in regulating the climate of the planet. However, in the final analysis, I think Jones nails it. We suffer because of sin, ours and that of others, but our suffering will fade into insignificance in eternity.

This book is accessible to even the high school reader, but not dumbed down such that a reader with an advanced degree would be bored with it. It is a must read. I urge you to read it BEFORE you encounter a crisis..

 

A Practical Guide to Culture By Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet: A Review

Authors

John Stonestreet is a President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and co-author (with William E. Brown and W. Gary Phillips) of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. He holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Bryan College. He is also the cohost of Breakpoint with Eric Metaxas.

Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director for Stand to Reason. Brett received his bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Biola University. He has his master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics at Talbot School of Theology. Brett was a contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, has a chapter on truth in Apologetics for a New Generation, and wrote the Ambassador’s Guide to Mormonism.

 

Synopsis

A Practical Guide to Culture is written to help Christians, especially Christian parents, navigate a culture that is growing in its hostility to the Christian worldview. The book is organized into four parts. Part one lays out what culture is and why it is important to understand it. Part two explains how the current culture effects how we see ourselves, through the lenses of technology, identity, relationships and maturity. Part three deals with contemporary sexuality, and can serve as a reference guide. Part four wraps up dealing with the grounding of our Christian worldview.

 

Analysis

Kunkle and Stonestreet offer valuable insights into today’s culture and how to address it as Christians who are called to be “in the world but not of it.” The book is written in a very readable style, with a conversational tone that is accessible to high schoolers and those with advanced degrees alike. If you have children at home, if you hope to have children one day, or if you have any influence on children (or even adults) this book is a must-read.

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Christ: a Review

Having seen a number of movies produced by Pure Flix, I was a little skeptical in my expectations for The Case for Christ. However, before I had a chance to see it, I saw a number of posts on social media by people whom I respect that suggested this would be worth seeing. As a fan of Lee Strobel, I would have seen it anyway, but I am happy to say that this was an excellent movie. (I suppose it helps that it was grounded in a real life story.)

For those who may not know, Strobel is a graduate of Yale Law School and is currently a Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. He is also the author of a book by the same name as the movie, as well as eight other books.

The movie covers the story of Strobel’s (SPOILER ALERT) conversion to Christianity. He had been an atheist who was employed as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was married, and up to this point in his life, his wife share his atheistic beliefs. A crisis caused her to reexamine her beliefs, leading her to become a Christian.

Strobel finds this unacceptable and embarks on a research project to debunk Christianity. He interviews scholars theology, history, archaeology, psychology, and medicine. On the advice of a Christian, he hopes to prove the resurrection never happened.

Knowing Strobel had to have had some input into the making of the movie, I appreciate his honesty in the portrayal. He was not an easy man for his wife to live with. I was also deeply moved by the scenes related to his father’s death.

As the film ended, I said, (as an apologist) “This is why I do what I do.” It also occurred to me that if he hadn’t become famous, those scholars who took so much time to talk to him might never have known how their efforts bore fruit. It can be hard to work at something if you don’t see the outcome, but that is what we are often called to do.

Kudos to Pure Flix for making a good movie.